BIBLE HILL, N.S.
In Mi’kmaq, Apuknajit means “the spirit of winter.”
And what better time to broaden the understanding of Canada’s Indigenous people.
“In my culture, February has been a time of reflection and celebration,” said Art Stevens, manager of Indigenous students for Dal AC.
“There is usually a celebration and feast held to put out an offering to Apuknajit, the spirit of winter, in respect that you’ve made it this far and hope to make it until spring.”
Apuknajit, an educational and interactive presentation, was held recently at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus to educate others on the historic and contemporary relationships between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of Canada.
“A lot of people have preconceived stereotypes about Indigenous people or really don’t understand the context of why we’re where we are; the history that put us in this situation,” said Stevens.
“The hope is events like this will be the spark that starts or ignites the interest in others to look into our history further and share with others.”
The presentation, part of International Development Week, began with a traditional smudging ceremony, to cleanse or bless people or places, led by Mi’kmaq elders from nearby Indigenous communities.
The group joined together for the blanket exercise, to take participants on a historic journey depicting the last 500 years for Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Participants moved around a circle of blankets to represent a community of Indigenous people and their land while listening to a narrator explain historic changes that affected the lives of Indigenous peoples.
As the exercise continued, the elders pulled away blankets, signifying the loss of land for Indigenous tribes during colonization.
“Dalhousie is really interested in promoting cultural awareness, especially around the Mi’kmaq people,” said Stevens.
“We have a strong connection to several of the communities near us, such as Millbrook First Nations, so we are looking for ways to get some dialogue on truth and reconciliation as well as ways to get the community to come on side.”
The room broke into three talking circles, where the elders passed a talking stick around the circle, allowing the holder of the stick to share. This brought discussions of education, reconciliation, loss and personal affliction.
The evening finished with a mid-winter feast of homemade stew, bannock and wild berries, the same dinner that would be served during mid-winter feasts in early days.
“The big takeaway of an event like this is just to have that awareness, that acknowledgement and reflection on the realities of Indigenous cultures,” said Stevens.